Scientists at Edinburgh University, UK, have fully grown egg cells in a laboratory, and there is now hope that this could lead to improved fertility treatments going forward.
To help aid women’s fertility, the egg cells were removed from the ovary tissue at the earliest stage of development and grown to the point at which they are ready to be fertilised.
This advance could protect girls with cancer from becoming infertile before they go ahead with potentially harmful medical treatment, such as chemotherapy.
Conventionally, cancer patients can have a piece of ovary removed before treatment commences; however, an attempt to reimplant it could mean a risk of reintroducing cancer.
This new breakthrough means that immature eggs, recovered from a patient’s ovarian tissue, could be matured in the laboratory and stored for later fertilisation.
Developing suitable substances for egg growth
Scientists and medical experts worked together to develop suitable substances in which eggs could be grown – known as culture mediums -to support each stage of cell development.
Previous studies have seen scientists develop mouse eggs to create live offspring and mature human eggs from a relatively late stage of development.
This latest study is the first time a human egg has been developed in the lab at its earliest stage.
Widening the scope of fertility treatments
Professor Evelyn Telfer, of the Edinburgh School of Biological Science, said: “Being able to fully develop human eggs in the lab could widen the scope of available fertility treatments.
“We are now working on optimising the conditions that support egg development in this way and studying how healthy they are. We also hope to find out, subject to regulatory approval, whether they can be fertilised.”
The study was carried out in collaboration with the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh, the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, US, and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, and supported by the UK Medical Research Council.
The study was published in Molecular Human Reproduction.